For the past few months, we have been engaged in a comprehensive examination of our pricing and our offerings on your behalf. During that process we came to the conclusion that our every-day shelf pricing in parts of the Grocery department could be improved. Though we have been aggressive with our promotions, we believe that we can better the already excellent service we provide by more vigorously pursuing and passing on deals, by tweaking our selection in key areas, and by fine-tuning our pricing on certain essential products that are important to the vast majority of our owners.
What follows is a peek at our process, an outline of how we’ve begun to make improvements, and our request for your involvement.
Our most recent storewide year-over-year quarterly growth rate was 6.2%-down from a string of double-digit growth. As we read it, you all are still very interested in high quality, healthy food shopped from your own neighborhood grocer—it’s just that you are, as a whole, shopping more frugally. We want to help. I intend to complement many of the more specific how-to articles we’ve run recently (Kathy’s, Dan’s, etc...) with an overview of how we are, directly, taking responsibility for lowering your grocery bill.
To be responsible and respectful caretakers of our nearly 35-year-old resource we must understand the recent slow-down in our growth in order to fully and properly address it. Of course the issueis our current economy, but we cannot settle for such a simple and broad explanation. A bit of introspection is in order. As the managers of your business we’ve been asking ourselves: what can we do, or do better, to gain sales?
Our very reason for existing is to serve the needs of our owners. I think our owners are a savvy bunch that can distinguish the talk from the walk. In pursuing more consistent and simply more sales, we can’t just hype our deals and expound upon the latest price improvements we’ve made. As the Co-op’s owners, you should not only get a more complete explanation, but more solutions and more responsiveness than a typical grocer might provide.
We also believe such economically trying times as we now find ourselves in provide ample opportunity to demonstrate the strengths of cooperative ownership, environmental stewardship, healthy eating, and community patronage. We believe the need for affordable access to food does not erase the need for that food to be of high quality, known origin, and certain value.
Of course these things—our need to understand the changes to the business and the fact that this business is owned by its patrons—highlight the strengths of cooperation in a simple and obvious way: we are—we must be—practiced and adept at soliciting and responding to your needs! So, we ask you: how can we better meet your needs? I encourage you to comment on this article online: go to willystreet.coop, click on Newsletter, find this article and give us your two cents. How will our efforts be best spent? What do you find yourself buying elsewhere? What food-related needs are you or your family struggling to meet? And of course: what are we doing well? What do you appreciate? What should not change?
We know from our sales data that Co-op patrons are stretching their food dollars by cooking more at home and seeking more “deals.” So, even without direct feedback, we trust that what you seek is simply more value. Who wouldn’t want more for their precious dollar or simply better pricing for the quality to which we’ve become accustomed? Our goal in researching and addressing our pricing has been to leave you confident not only in the direction we are steering your food source but in the value you will continue to derive from shopping here.
We’ve never gouged—we publish our earnings to you each year—so we can’t simply lower prices without jeopardizing the business. At this time the reductions we’ve been able to make reflect our buyers’ vigorous pursuit of deals and savings we’ve achieved beyond the prices we pay. We’ve reorganized our back room to be better able to store deals when we find them. We’re capitalizing on the truly incredible work our whole staff has accomplished in the face of our own private financial adversity—the failure of our attempt to open a second store last year. We’re converting the improved margin performance they’ve achieved and their increased labor efficiency to wiggle-room in our overall margin then concentrating that gain on the prices of products we see you buying most. We’re stemming loss wherever we can and generally continuing to tighten our operations and are passing all those saving we feel secure in maintaining on to you in the form of better prices.
We have begun lowering prices on many items throughout the store, but please don’t be surprised if the products you wish you could buy cheaper haven’t been affected by our efforts yet. We have honestly felt comfortable taking a slower albeit more deliberate path. This has certainly been because of the gravity inherent in fast change, but also because of our belief that we are already quite competitive in our pricing and selection. We haven’t taken that for granted byany means—in fact we started with an assumption that we had improvements to make. But we also have found great pride in what we have learned.
We work hard to quell our own reactionary tendencies with the prudence necessary to stay healthy as a business, so we’re adjusting a bit at a time. (I’m told our finance committee just clapped—as in an ovation—in response to seeing our half-year health on paper. Such fiscal health must come first.)
We really are not done—perhaps just getting started! Hop online right now (or drop us a note), and tell us what you need. I promise: we’re listening. We probably won’t respond to comments or even questions posted on this article, but we will read them all and take them, and you, seriously.
That’s our job. And it is your right.